Southampton's Mystery Nazi Bomber
During the late summer of 1940, Cunliffe-Owen at Eastleigh [Southampton] Airport were busily repairing Hurricanes and Spitfires which had suffered battle damage during the Battle of Britain, and also assembling American lend-lease aircraft that had arrived part-built through Southampton docks.
Photographs of the factory show some of these aircraft in various stages of assembly or repair, but one or two rather surprisingly show a large German Heinkel 111P bomber resplendent in her Luftwaffe markings, sitting on her undercarriage, but with her wings removed and placed alongside the aircraft.
What was this aircraft doing parked in a hangar at Cunliffe-Owen? Several visitors to the museum over the years have mentioned this aircraft – with those of a ‘conspiracy theory’ mind have suggested that she was used for secret and clandestine missions by either the RAF or SOE. They may be confused with other Heinkels – several ex-Norwegian Air Force Heinkel 115 floatplanes were flown to the UK by their crews when Norway was invaded by the Nazis, and these aircraft were indeed used for clandestine missions and flown from RAF Calshot.
The truth about this particular aircraft is, sadly, perhaps more prosaic. The Heinkel 111P was one from 6/KG55 [No 6 Staffel [Flight] of Kampfgeschwader [Bomber squadron] 55, wearing the squadron codes G1+HP, which had been shot down by the RAF on 16 August 1940.
The second aircraft of that unit to be so designated G1+HP, with the previous wearer having been shot down in March 1940, this particular aircraft had taken off from her base near Le Havre in Northern France earlier on Friday, 16 August 1940, as part of KG55’s mission that day to bomb Feltham, Heathrow and other military targets in the West London vicinity.
On their return flight from the bombing mission, KG55 were pounced upon by fighter aircraft of various squadrons, including Hurricanes of No 1[Cawnpore] Squadron from RAF Northolt, where they had been regrouping after service in France, rather than from their usual base of RAF Tangmere.
Perhaps this was just as well, as Tangmere was itself targeted and bombed at 1.00pm on the 16th by JU87 ‘Stuka’ dive bombers, causing severe damage to hangars, station buildings and the loss of numerous aircraft and supporting vehicles.
At just after 5.00pm, the Heinkel was heading over Sussex towards the English coastline, and thence to her base, when she was attacked by a Hurricane, flown by the CO of 1 Squadron, Sqn Ldr D B Pemberton DFC, who would have heard about the heavy raid on his home base, Tangmere a few hours earlier.
Unfortunately for the Heinkel’s crew, they were being attacked by an extremely experienced and probably very angry fighter pilot, already decorated for valour. Pemberton’s quick attack caused the Heinkel to crash-land at Anington’s Farm, Bramber, Sussex at 5.15pm. Two of the crew were captured from the aircraft after the crash – Oberleutenant [Flying Officer] Weiland, and Feldwebel [Sergeant] Langstrof, with Unteroffizer [Senior Corporal] Appel apprehended shortly after he had bailed out.
Two other crewmen died – Uffz Hattendorf was killed during the attack, and Uffz Pulver who died of his wounds three days later.
Sqn Ldr Pemberton himself crash-landed a few minutes later after his Hurricane was hit by returning fire from another of KG55’s Heinkels.
The Heinkel was more or less intact on crash-landing, and was probably destined for the RAE Farnborough, either for spares for the already captured and airworthy He111H, or possibly to bring her to airworthy condition herself if the damage wasn’t too severe.
She was quickly dismantled at the crash site and transported on the back of a British and American Tobacco transporter to the closest airfield with a large hangar available – hence her being at Eastleigh.
There she stood until the fateful day – 11 September 1940 – when the Cunliffe-Owen factory was itself bombed with a large loss of life and severe damage to the complex itself.
Photographs of the immediate aftermath of the raid show her still intact, but obviously further damaged, however there the trail goes cold.
She was, we believe, put on display in Brighton and possibly also Reading as part of a savings drive, as other downed German aircraft often were all over the UK.
Was she then sent to the MPRD [Metal Produce Recovery Depot] aircraft scrapyard adjacent to the Morris Motors plant at Cowley, Oxford where other German aircraft were dismantled and scrapped?
Any useful parts would, most likely, have been removed and sent to Farnborough or RAF Duxford to help maintain the airworthy Heinkel on 1426 Flight.
Perhaps you, dear reader will know the final demise of this aircraft – we’d love to know what happened to her.